The Pentagon is seeking special authority to resume administering the anthrax vaccine to military personnel, saying troops in South Korea and the Middle East are at particular...

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is seeking special authority to resume administering the anthrax vaccine to military personnel, saying troops in South Korea and the Middle East are at particular risk of exposure to the bacteria, military health officials said.

“We are concerned for the health and safety of our service members, particularly in worldwide operations involving the war on terrorism,” William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in a statement. “Intelligence indicates an ongoing threat of anthrax against our military forces.”

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Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, citing a classified intelligence assessment, requested that military officials have access to the vaccine in a Dec. 10 letter to Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services.

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said the request was being considered. HHS is authorized to respond to a terrorist attack or other emergency by allowing the military to use some drugs, such as the anthrax vaccine, that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Anthrax vaccinations for armed-forces personnel were suspended in October, when a federal judge ordered the military to stop requiring troops to be vaccinated without their consent. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan found that, in approving the vaccine, the FDA had not followed its procedures, which require it to seek public comment on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines before approving them.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered a “pause” in the vaccinations but wrote that the department “remains convinced” that the program “complies with all legal requirements and that anthrax vaccine is safe and effective.”

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, sent letters to Thompson and to CIA director Porter Goss. Shays asked Goss to allow the panel to review the intelligence cited by Wolfowitz.

“It is vital that so important a public-health matter be conducted deliberately and openly,” Shays wrote. “The threat of biological terrorism is not uniquely military.”

About 1.2 million Americans have been given the anthrax vaccine since 1998, the Pentagon said. But the vaccine has been the subject of debate concerning its effectiveness against the deadly inhalation form of anthrax and the contention that it produces severe side effects in some people.